Stonechat’s a tough lit­tle bird

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - HERALD & POST -

THE sight­ing of a lively lit­tle stonechat is cer­tain to brighten up a win­ter’s day.

There ap­pear to be plenty of these at­trac­tive small birds around Teesside at the mo­ment, es­pe­cially in coastal ar­eas.

Stonechats are eas­ily dis­missed in sil­hou­ette be­cause they are vir­tu­ally the same shape and size as a robin. But when you are strolling along a path they have a habit of stay­ing close by, fly­ing ahead of you and re­peat­edly flick­ing their wings when they land three or four fence-posts ahead.

As you can see from this su­perb pic­ture from John Money, right, which shows a male stonechat in full plumage, the bird is a lit­tle cracker.

The males have strik­ing black heads with white col­lars, and or­ange-red breasts.

As of­ten hap­pens in the bird­ing world, the fe­males are not so showy, though they still have plenty of or­ange on their breasts which makes them stand out.

Stonechats get their name ap- par­ently be­cause their sharp shrill song sounds like two stones be­ing rubbed to­gether.

They are one of the few in­secteat­ing birds to tough it out through the Bri­tish win­ters, though they will also take seeds and any re­main­ing black­ber­ries which they find in coastal shrub.

In an­cient Scottish folk­lore the stonechat was be­lieved to pos­sess oc­cult pow­ers which later in­spired the poet WH Au­den when he wrote The Wan­derer.

Per­son­ally the only power which the stonechat pos­sesses is one which en­cour­ages me to make as many coastal treks as pos­si­ble dur­ing the win­ter.

From stonechats to starfish, and Keith Par­nell re­cently had a strange ex­pe­ri­ence at his Red­car home.

He said: “I was sit­ting in my con­ser­va­tory when there was a bang on the roof. Ex­pect­ing to find an in­jured or dead bird on the ground, imag­ine my sur­prise when I found a leg from a starfish.

“It was still fresh too – ob­vi­ously dropped by one of the many gulls fly­ing around Red­car.” It’s a well-known fact that starfish can re­gen­er­ate a lost arm, so we must hope that the un­for­tu­nate starfish had this arm bit­ten away on the beach and is cur­rently grow­ing a new one in a Red­car rock pool.

Starfish ac­tu­ally store most of their vi­tal or­gans in their arms. I un­der­stand that it is pos­si­ble for some starfish to re­gen­er­ate a com­pletely new starfish from just one arm and a por­tion of the cen­tral disc.

Maybe Keith should put the leg in a bucket of salty wa­ter!

Eric would like to hear from read­ers about what they have seen. Email him at eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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